The FCC chairman throws weight behind net neutrality, Part II

Banning Internet Service Providers from charging content providers


FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s proposal would reclassify consumer broadband Internet as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act, banning Internet Service Providers from charging content providers more for higher tiered service. The proposed rules would also apply to mobile services and have the support of net neutrality

There are five members of the FCC. Three, including Wheeler are Democratic appointments. Two are Republican. It’s likely, then, that when Wheeler’s proposal is comes to vote later this month the Commission will approve it. A broader political battle will continue.

The debate continues

The two primary warring groups on this issue make arguments based on radically different assumptions and historical reference points. It seems that even differ on basic definitions of terms.

Fundamentally different beliefs about government and the private sector underlie this debate. Proponents of net neutrality believe that government regulation/rules can protect the public from predatory private entities and ensure universal access. Critics believe that that government should not interfere with market forces or corporate initiatives. Each spins regulatory history to lend credence to their broader assumptions.

In recent statements, critics of net neutrality claim the following–

  • Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) say that this is “federal overreach,” and that the President and FCC are “going to take over the Internet.”
  • They warn that broadband would open the door to taxes and repressive regulations, giving the FCC “broad and unprecedented discretion to micromanage the Internet.” (Wheeler counters that the plan will not include new rates or taxes and will not include Internet micromanagement).
  • They defend second tier “fast lanes” because they believe they encourage innovation. (Net neutrality proponents believe that equal Internet access for all will encourage innovation).
  • They strongly believe that “wireless is different and the Commission was correct in its (2010) decision not to subject mobile broadband to the same requirements.”

What to expect in the months ahead–

  • Senate and House Republicans have already begun investigations into whether President Barack Obama “unfairly influenced” the FCC’s new direction.
  • Senator Thune will reintroduce GOP-backed legislation opposing the new FCC initiative in March after the Commission votes later this month.
  • Net neutrality opponents will continue to run advertisements to try to influence public opinion, with messages claiming that and that, e.g., mobile users will have to pay more taxes under Wheeler’s plan and that net neutrality will lead to greater government surveillance.
  • One thing is for sure: expect to see a concerted effort by the Republican-led Congress to open as many loopholes as possible in the new FCC regulations.


More Insights